The project Democratic Urban Development in the Digital Age (DEMUDIG) investigated the extent and impact of citizen participation through ICT and social media in urban governance. We have studied political participation in urban development projects that aim to improve specific districts of the city. We also studied city governments? efforts to promote, manage and use digital channels for citizen participation. We asked: How do digital platforms strengthen citizen influence, and thereby contribute to a more democratic and effective urban governance?
The DEMUDIG project compared three cities: Oslo, Madrid and Melbourne. It brought together political science, information and communication technology and sociology/human geography, and used different data sources and methods. The project was organized in four work packages:
The first focused on comparing the three cities? strategies and use of ICT/new media for citizen participation. Our study revealed different strategies for digital participation. The city government in Madrid had implemented digital participation mainly as a tool for citizen impact on decision making processes. In Melbourne, digital participation focused on informing the city government about citizens? opinions and involving citizens in co-creating smart solutions. Oslo used several different digital channels for communication with users of services but lacked a mechanism for citizen participation in policy formulation and decision-making. Explanations to these differences vary and may include the roles and responsibilities of the change agents that initiate digitalization, the openness of the political system towards democratic innovations, the strength of established institutional systems, and the capacity of those actors that promote policy change.
The second work package focused on how the city of Oslo facilitated and managed participatory processes. We found that the Grønland-Tøyen area-based initiative had introduced new participatory channels ? both digital and conventional ? in order to reach out to ?the silent voices?. After participation, the area-based initiative staff actively channeled and handled citizen proposals. Citizens were, however, invited to provide input on rather marginal issues of policy implementation. The activists among the residents, however, wanted to influence policy formulation and allocation of resources. To be able to do so, they used other, informal, channels and relied on other actors to handle their input through the decision-making system.
The third work package surveyed citizens, politicians and civil servants in Madrid, Melbourne, and Oslo and was conducted during the autumn 2019 through the spring 2020. The survey showed strong support among politicians and bureaucrats for participation as a democratic principle. However, the civil servants? assessment of what was possible to achieve were less optimistic, due to insufficient resources and weak cross-sectoral and multilevel coordination, among other things. Our citizen respondents were representative of local organizations or engaged individuals. In all three cities, they used digital platforms only to a limited degree. They more often took part in open meetings and contacted city officials through e-mail. Different cultures for activism and differences in trust in local government, rather than the cities? e-participation strategies, explained the differences in how these active residents participated.
Fourth, we investigated the use of digital channels to strengthen the participation, knowledge, and power of citizens, by combining the observations and perspectives of the three other work packages. Our comparison of the digital direct democracy model in Madrid with the models in Melbourne and Oslo showed that in the best case, Madrid, digitalization enabled the city to mobilize more citizens and involved citizens in the city?s decision-making processes. At the same time, it fell short of reducing political inequalities and facilitating high quality deliberations. Furthermore, the fact that digital channels were layered upon non-digital participation channels, instead of replacing them, had complicated and multifaceted consequences for democracy. It did enable cities to reach out to more citizens and in different ways. This implied extended participatory opportunities for citizens and allowed for different forms of engagement. Hence it could ameliorate the limitations of non-digital participation and at the same time limited the possible negative effects of thin and obligation-free digital participation. As such this layering could make participatory governance more robust. There was, however, a considerable risk for deepening the participatory divide as the more resourceful citizen groups were better equipped to use the new participatory opportunities digitalization represents.
The DEMUDIG project has increased international research cooperation on citizen participation and e-participation in urban development. The comparative design has furthered our knowledge about how city and system characteristics affect cities' adoption and implementation of e-participation tools. The project has strengthened interdisciplinary research. By combining perspectives from computer science, political science and urban studies, the project has made a substantial contribution to understanding the relationship between cities' adoption and implementation of digital participation technologies and citizen participation, and of the relationship between modes of participation and their impact on urban development. The new knowledge is disseminated to the target audience through seminars, high-level conferences, and written material. By this, the project hopes to continue to impact cities' adoption and implementation of participatory technologies and systems.
The DEMUDIG project study citizens' use of internet and social media as vehicles for participation in urban development processes, as well as city governments' efforts to promote and make use of citizen initiatives through such channels. Thus, the project studies the extent and influence of citizen and stakeholder participation through digital channels, and investigates how characteristics of the political-administrative system of city government affects how cities are promoting and handling citizen participation. As urban development processes tend to encompass conflicting interests between different groups, political solutions should be informed by the experiences and preferences of the diversity of actors. DEMUDIG investigate how participation through ICT / new social media can contribute to urban governance representativeness and increase problem solving capacity.
The DEMUDIG project proposes a comparative study, investigating citizen participation in urban development projects in Oslo, Madrid and Melbourne, three cities with different institutional characteristics and approaches to citizen participation. DEMUDIG brings together different academic disciplines and data sources. It compares cities' participation strategies, and studies how the design of each city's ICT platform affects participation from different groups. A large-N survey in the three cities enables us to compare use and perceived impact of various digital channels. Through an in-depth qualitative study of participatory initiatives in the city of Oslo, we aim to further examine how the city facilitates and manages participatory processes, how citizen initiatives are channeled into the policy process and if and how they eventually influence policy-making. Combining these insights, the project will produce knowledge with strong relevance for both citizens, administrators and politicians, as well as practitioners within the ICT/technical sphere.